I was born in Brooklyn and raised in North Philadelphia. My mother was a single parent and even though she tried to set boundaries for me, I pretty much did what I wanted as a child. I was molested by my babysitter at six years old so I was exposed to sex at a very young age. Throughout the years I slept around a lot so I don’t know who gave me HIV. I was also hooked on drugs, crack and cocaine, but because I came from a place of no love or self-respect, I didn’t care. It was that kind of attitude that led me to rob and steal. In 2000, I was sent to state prison for two years. That’s when I found out that I was HIV positive.
After I got out of prison, I was in a recovery program that introduced me to FIGHT. I decided to enroll in Project TEACH because I had a desire to become a peer educator. My process of change started here at FIGHT. Not just because of the peer education part, but also because of the love, respect and the education that I received from the class.
I wanted to learn more about myself and this disease and how I could take better care of myself. I stumbled and I fell, but I kept going. Today, I love myself; I love people. My life is totally blessed. Yeah I have my struggles, but today I know I can deal with them. When I sat down and came to Project TEACH, I got so much information and I finally had the opportunity to put myself first. Now I don’t steal, I don’t lie, and I don’t manipulate. I take my meds on time.
Today, I’ll reach out to that person who is struggling with drugs or who is HIV-positive. I’m always there to talk someone and I’m always trying to find someone who can talk to me; that’s part of my process. Just like everyone else, I need help. I can’t do this all by myself. Project TEACH taught me that too. I’m not alone. I’m not going to die.
It feels good to be in service but it’s also a reminder of what I used to be. I’m proud of myself because I’m finally a Peer Educator and I teach people about things - not just HIV and STDS, but general health. I am giving back.
This is my story. I’ve been through a lot of things in life, even to the point of almost surrendering and giving up. But I would tell people, no matter what happens, don’t give up. Just keep moving.
- Steven Johnson